In Angel #33 writer Bill Willingham continues his pattern of gradual improvement in the writing department, but he has still delivered several moments that require a bit of head scratching. In all fairness, Willingham uses this issue to clean up a number of small messes in the current storyline and does so fairly gracefully.
When the issue opens, "Angel" is back in charge of his team, and "Laura Weathermill" is doing her best to be the new "Wesley." In a long overdue moment, "Weathermill" confronts the painfully boring angel, "James," about his true identity. Being a fairly experienced Watcher, "Weathermill" calls "James" out on his bulls@#$ Heaven & Hell story, forcing him to reveal that the angel guise is merely to cover his own evil agenda. Why temporary Angel comic writer Kelley Armstrong was ever allowed to approach definitive Heaven/Hell storylines given the Whedonverse’s ambiguous handling of the subject in every other form boggles the mind. Who knows if "James" will make a better villain than a team member, but it’s a relief that the subject was finally addressed.
It is revealed that "James" is some evil, ancient force focused on "purchasing" the earth dimension from his equally evil and ancient sister, but not before he cuts a bloody path through Angel Investigations. After "Weathermill" is beaten unconscious, "James" tears off "Angel’s"hands and feet, leaving him on the floor of the Hyperion with four small piles of dust. While effective in sheer shock value, any good Buffy or Angel fan is immediately suspicious as to how this could happen given what we know of vampire rules in the Whedonverse. While "Angel" recovers in bed, "Illyria" explains to the others that, in the deep past, vampires were able to regrow appendages. They then lost the ability for centuries. The theory from "Weathermill’s" floating orb, "Mr. Polyphemus," is that "Angel" is being influenced by the return of something old and powerful from the days of the first vampire. The regenerating limbs are just the byproduct of this thing’s presence. It’s safe to assume that this ancient thing is "James."
As stated earlier, this is, once again, Willingham’s best issue to date, but it does feel slightly transparent. While it’s great to eliminate some of the "excess baggage" added to the group after Armstrong’s arc, it seems painfully obvious that this is the case and that the character of "James" wasn’t originally intended to be a surprise villain. Still, Willingham isn’t responsible for "James" being added to the cast, and his handling of the situation is the best one could hope for. Kudos to Willingham for making some damn good lemonade out of some pretty crappy lemons.
Now, when it comes to the whole "limbs regenerating" thing, the writing is a little more sketchy. We know from characters like "Claw" (the vamp who cut off his own arm for failing "The Master," replacing it with a claw-like blade) in Buffy Season 1 that vampire limbs don’t grow back. We know from the Angel episode "Damage" that "Spike’s" limbs did not dust when he was dismembered by psycho-slayer, "Dana." Sure, Willingham has given us a reason for the change in the mythology, but it seems super thin and, so far, serves no purpose but to allow for our vampire heroes to get their appendages ripped off without real consequence. In reality, it seems most likely that Willingham got flak for not paying attention to the established Whedonverse vampire rules when he had "Spike" lose a limb in a recent issue. "Spike" mentioned to "Gunn" that he hated regrowing his limbs, and this new explanation of how this is happening is Willingham’s "band-aid" for the subject. Even if that’s not the case, are we really to believe that this is happening because something really, really old is present? What about the presence of "Illyria?" What about "Glorificus?" What about "The First Evil?" What could be older then "The First?" Our boys, "Spike" and "Angel," should have shown this trait before, if this is really a valid explanation. So far, this addition to the mythology just isn’t cutting it.
As in past issues, the "Eddie Hope" story continues as well and continues to bore. "Gunn" makes an appearance, actually causing "Eddie" to make a move against him from his past "crimes" as a vampire in Angel: After the Fall. Maybe we’ll finally find a reason to care about this demonic anti-hero in the next issue. Still, would it be so bad to let big, blue, and horny sit the next few issues out, so that we can get a full issue devoted to the main arc following the vampire with a soul who’s name graces the cover?
That’s all for now, gang! Till next month, when hopefully panther-girl goes evil and "Angel" sends her to the big, kitty litter pan in the sky!
-Bryant the Comic Book Slayer